BSP Podcast: Ronja Griep on Menstrual Shame

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Ronja Griep presenting a paper from our 2022 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology II’.

Season 6 episode 153: 7 June 2024

Season 6 continues with another presentation from our 2022 annual conference, Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Spatiality. This episode features a presentation from Ronja Griep, University of Cambridge.

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Ronja Griep
‘When Does Bodily Shame Turn Unjust? The Case of Menstrual Shame’

A concern with menstrual shame has occupied policymakers, educators, and charity workers abroad for decades (ActionAid 2021, Amnesty International 2019). Increasingly, the ‘fight against period shame’ has been discussed within the UK, amid news of the Scottish government scrapping the ‘tampon tax’ and the award of an MBE to Amika George for her activism in offering free period products in schools (BBC 2021). What is it that troubles many about menstrual shame? What exactly are activists fighting against? I argue that these questions are best answered by attending closely to the phenomenology of menstrual shaming – this phenomenology not only reveals menstrual shaming to be insidious, but to constitute an injustice. I argue, drawing on Iris Marion Young and Julia Kristeva, that menstrual shaming takes place mainly at the level of habits and unconscious behaviour in everyday social spaces. It reaches all corners of life – from personal to interpersonal and institutional. The phenomenology itself plays a crucial part in discovering just what the injustice consists in: I argue that habit-formation influenced by shame and institutional failures, as I highlighted, leads to women’s self-respect being undermined before they even begin to engage in projects. It undermines their self-respect at early yet important stages of women’s lives, while remaining often invisible and highly normalised. This account of injustice arising from the phenomenology of menstrual shaming, I conclude, gives us important insights into which other forms of bodily shaming constitute injustice and why they do so. This allows me to answer one of the most powerful objections to my argument, namely that we all conduct certain bodily needs in private and would be ashamed if discovered, yet do not think of this as an injustice. The specific phenomenology of menstrual shame, I contend, allows us to differentiate different forms of bodily shaming.

Biography: Ronja Griep is a PhD Student in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Her research focusses on menstrual shaming, starting from its phenomenology to its status as an injustice and ending with thoughts on possible empowerment. She is especially interested in FemTech’s promise to ‘empower’ women from menstrual shame, e.g. by offering them to track their periods. Her research is funded by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship Programme and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Further Information:

This recording is taken from our Annual UK Conference 2022: Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Sociality (Exeter, UK / Hybrid) with the University of Exeter. Sponsored by the Wellcome Centre, Egenis, and the Shame and Medicine project. For the conference our speakers either presented in person at Exeter or remotely to people online and in-room, and the podcast episodes are recorded from the live broadcast feeds.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?